Eckelman roughed up in rare start

PORTLAND, Maine — The idea of a relief pitcher starting a game in an opener role has a lot of upside, but it also can cause some trouble by putting the pitcher in an unusual spot.

The Curve turned to closer Matt Eckelman to open Saturday’s game at Portland because of some tough roster circumstances. Even though Eckelman has had experience starting in his career, that didn’t prevent him from having a rough outing against the Sea Dogs.

Portland scored five runs in the first off Eckelman, and that was all the home team needed as it held on for a 5-3 win over the Curve at Hadlock Field.

Altoona lost its fifth consecutive game, all on this season-long 10-game road trip, and had yet another tough day the plate with just five hits.

The Curve did battle back after the rough start and had a chance to pull closer in the sixth, only to be shut down there and the rest of the game.

Pedro Vasquez was scheduled to start for the Curve, sporting a 3-1 record and 3.23 ERA. But Vasquez is needed in Triple-A with some pitching issues up above in the Pirates’ system, so he was promoted to Indianapolis.

Eckelman (1-1) got the call to open Saturday, and he struggled from the outset. He gave up a single and RBI double to start the game before recording a strikeout. Eckelman then allowed two more singles and a two-run double to Tate Matheny, who later scored Portland’s fifth and final run of the inning.

Eckelman allowed the five runs on six hits, struck out two and walked none. He began his career as a starter at rookie-level Bristol in 2016, starting 11 of his 13 appearances, but had not started a game since doing so three times in 2017 at low-A West Virginia.

Beau Sulser followed with four scoreless innings of relief for Altoona, then Blake Cederlind pitched two and Joel Cesar one. But the damage had already been done.

Ryan Peurifoy had a good day at the plate for the Curve, hitting a solo homer in the third and adding a single in the fifth. Bligh Madris singled home Peurifoy in the fifth, and Mitchell Tolman had a run-scoring groundout to make it 5-3.

Altoona had runners on first and second with one out in the sixth but couldn’t get closer against Portland starter Tanner Houck (4-4), who allowed three runs on five hits and struck out seven over six innings for the win.

Brian Ellington pitched the ninth for his first save.

Neither Brock Holt nor Dustin Pedroia played Saturday for Portland. Both went 0-for-2 Friday night on their rehab assignments, and it’s possible they could play today.

The Curve will face major leaguer Brian Johnson this afternoon as the lefty makes a rehab start. He’s coming back from an elbow injury.

With Vasquez going up to Triple-A, Peurifoy was added to the active roster from extended spring training.

Game recap

Key player: RHP Tanner Houck allowed three runs over six innings and escaped a jam in his final frame to earn the win for Portland.

Key play: The Sea Dogs got to opener Matt Eckelman for five runs in the first inning.

Key stat: The Curve have lost five in a row and dropped to a season-high three games below .500.

How they scored

Bottom 1st: Rivera singled, scored on Netzer double (0-1); Tobias single scored Netzer (0-2); Asche singled, scored along with Tobias on Matheny double (0-4); Nunez single scored Matheny (0-5).

Top 3rd: Peurifoy solo homer (1-5).

Top 5th: Peurifoy singled, scored on Madris single (2-5); Valerio reached on fielder’s choice, scored on Tolman groundout (3-5).